Christmastide

December 29, 2013 at 3:12 am (Pilgrimage)

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Christmas Day after church

As the Christmas season draws to an end, my wife and I enjoy the homes of our neighborhood decked with wonderful displays of lights and ornaments. During Advent we gave our annual donation to Salvation Army and other charitable societies. And, we are beginning to look to plans for 2014. Fortunately, the Christmas season continues, liturgically, beyond the New Years’, not really ending until Epiphany or Jan. 6th. Incidentally, this is the usual time public schools provide for holiday break, so something of the old Christmas season lingers.

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Tree of Knowledge

A liturgical practice which I love is had every year at St. Paul’s Anglican church where the rector decks the sanctuary with two Christmas trees on either side of choir. The practice of Greening the Church is at least a medieval one, and in Germany placing two trees in the chancel at the time of Christmas Eve was allegedly the source for our present-day Yule trees at home. Evidently, the trees represented the ‘first’ and ‘second’ Adam. The first Adam (pictured to the left) represents Man under the bondage of sin. There are the apples, or fruit of sin, from the Tree of Knowledge, and a six-pointed star at the top reminding us of King David, also a notorious adulterer. Six-points are likewise the number and labor of man, since in six days the first Adam was created, in six he was to finish his work. On the sixth hour of the sixth day, Christ was crucified as sin. Though this labor is important for our earthly substance, it is not the Glory of God, which, instead, is a title owned by the eternal Son.

However, the second tree prefigures this ‘glory’ since it depicts the new Adam or Christ. Seen to the left, there is a five-pointed star atop, symbolizing the five-wounds of Jesus who, St. Paul says, ‘was hung on a tree as sin’. As the ‘cross’, the tree announces a perfect and final sacrifice, redeeming the first Adam through the new Man, Christ. The four ribbons streaming from the wounds or star represent the breadth and commission of the Gospel to the Apostles, namely, their dispatch to the four corners of the earth– North, West, East, and South– thereby harkening the new creation, “a new heaven and earth”.

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Tree of Life

Furthermore, Upon the tree are thirty-three roses and 33 lights, each corresponding to a year of our Lord’s ministry on earth– itself an epiphany (or manifestation of the Son of God) as He witnessed his Father’s Glory first to the Jew (or circumcised), then to the Gentile, from Glory to Glory. The light is self-explanatory since John says, “he was the light of the world”. The Rose is a symbol of unfolding mystery and wonder. Tradition claims roses followed the steps of the Blessed Virgin as she and Joseph found their way to the Manger, much like Christ’s march was marked by palm branches toward the gates of Jerusalem. The Rose and Cross (the former is a tree) further play into the symbolism of the Protestant Reformation.

Over time, these symbols and greenery were somehow confused, so simple folk eventually combined the two trees– decking fruit, lights, and flowers together upon a single sapling. Perhaps one way to think of our Christmas tree is by picturing ourselves enjoying an incipient state of salvation, not fully cleansed, but have a foretaste of grace to come. So, the Tree can remind us of the goodness of Christ in this life yet also point to something better and more complete in the life to come. Perhaps it’s comparable a newborn child who within already contains (in potential) the mature adult? This might be one way to perceive the ‘mixed’ nature of the decked Tree– sic. Christ (conquering) in sinful man or Life and Death mixed in us? Regardless of how we might excuse our more recent custom, we are pleased whenever we have the opportunity to ‘green’ the church, and our home, which is truly a special event.

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record presents

The liturgical reckoning of Christmastide is an interesting subject. The fact Christmas season is popularly imagined as beginning with the end of Thanksgiving (Black Friday) and lasting until Christmas Day is an recent invention propounded by merchandising interests. I tend to blame this commercialization of Christmas for the hustle and bustle of December. I also witnessed a lot of car accidents as the countdown to Dec.25th approached. Sadly, what’s missed by the frantic of the season is the older celebration of Christmas week, otherwise known as the Twelve Days. During this octave(+) there are some excellent occasions to be had– like St. Stephen’s Martyrdom, the Apostle John the Evangelist, and Holy Innocents Day.. all pointing to the incarnation and progressive manifestation of the lamb of God. Incidentally, in the past we’ve gone as far as Jan. 12th, the octave of epiphany, before taking down outdoor lights.

Bishop Winfield Mott recently expressed his disfavor with such commotion, begging Christians to keep their Advent quiet. Advent can be a period of serious reflection, and I think the Bartlett family could use such refocus, avoiding seasonal distractions like excessive shopping and television. Bp. Mott poignantly said,

“The ‘happy holidays’ centered in Me are replacing the merry joy in the incarnate birth centered in God, who fills my life with the meaningful and originally natural order of His love, replacing my empty core of self-centered dead end loneliness…We do not have to participate in such. With the remainder of this Advent and every one following, detach from the fray and make the inner journey” ( p. 8, Messenger v. 9 #12)

I hope to post something on our next phase of (in this case ‘literal’) pilgrimage. Soon enough (perhaps in the next six years) we expect a coming departure from the San Francisco Bay area to the grand solitude of the “Oregon Country”. We hope to share something of that eventual relocation, and I will write about this next time.

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Little Edie, Merry Christmas!

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